Fall and Winter in the Five Element Theory

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Gunn Helene Arsky

Fall is here, or maybe it’s even winter where you live. Do you feel like snuggling up in front of the fireplace, or finding a place to hibernate? This is perfectly understandable, and also beneficial for our energy levels, according to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). According to TCM, our Qi, or life force, fluctuates within us through the seasons, just as it does in nature around us.

This is called the Five Element Theory, and Wood (spring), Fire (summer), Earth (late summer), Metal (fall), and Water (winter) as the basic elements of the material world. Yin yoga works with the seasons, and therefore it is valuable to have an understanding of the Five Element Theory.

Fall and winter occur at different dates around the world, so here we look at both.


Autumn in Yin yoga means an additional focus on the Lung and Large Intestine meridians. These are the two Yin and Yang organs that are associated with this season. Feelings associated with Autumn include grief, sadness and melancholy, according to TCM. So if we work to balance these, we will be able to transform the natural sense of loss during fall into joy, courage, strength, and love.

Our Lungs and Large Intestine both work with expelling waste. Our lungs also let us breathe in fresh air, but also Qi (Heavenly Qi). If we don’t breathe deeply, we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to refuel with available Qi.

The Large Intestine is the Yang organ of the Metal element. The colon is the last post on the way out of the body for the waste we produce. In traditional Chinese medicine, the Large Intestine also helps us to let go and not dwell on the past.

Transition and cycles

Many of us are sad when summer is over. Seeds fall to the soil, the fruit and foliage fall from the trees and begin to rot. The decay process forms minerals (Metal) that provide good soil quality. We may use this time to reach the spiritual depth within us, and unite the spiritual nature with the animal nature within us. The seeds that fall to earth are the very essence of ourselves, concentrated in a seed that via the Water element during Winter can bloom again during the Wood element in spring.


The Winter season and its Water element is the most Yin season of them all. Nature is turning downward and conserving energy, hibernating. The Kidney and Bladder meridians are the two Yin and Yang organs that are associated with this season. Fear is the Water emotion. When balanced, this fear can move and direct us to remain alert and attentive to our surroundings and situation.  But when imbalanced, fear becomes an obstacle and may manifest as anxiety or as a phobia. It often signifies a deficiency in the Water energy and a corresponding lack of grounding.

The Kidneys are said to be the seat of our most basic and fundamental energy, the Qi we inherited from our parents. This Qi, unlike Qi in other organs, cannot be refilled. When our Kidney Qi runs out, so does our life, TCM states. Therefore it is important to safeguard our Kidney Qi. The cold winter weather can increase the loss of Kidney Qi, so always keep your kidney area warm.

How to live in harmony during Fall and Winter:

Clean the house: Go through cabinets, drawers, garage – all messy storage spaces, and give away, recycle, or discard what you no longer need. This will nourish the “soil” you grow in.

Clear your head: Look at prejudice, envy, hatred, jealousy, and anything else you may have stored in your psyche. Feel free to contact those you have something outstanding with, clean up old problems and let go. Where it doesn’t go – write the problems on a paper and burn it.

Breathe slowly and deeply: When you inhale the clean Autumn air, you feel energetic and cleansed. Let the old negativity and pain leave the body through the exhale.

Hibernate: The winter season is the time to slow down, rest, and strengthen body. Use your time for reflection, conservation, nurturing, and  storage.

Yin yoga: During Fall, focus on stretching both the inside and outside of the arms. Use your arms creatively in Yin asanas such as Bananasana and Saddle Pose (if arms are over the head). Massage the Lung-1 acupressure point. During Winter, include inward and downward focusing Yin asanas like Butterfly, Forward Fold, and Child’s Pose. Massage the Kidney-1 acupressure point.

Foods: Autumn foods include umami rich shiitake mushrooms, parmesan cheese, rice, milk, cream, onion, garlic, cauliflower, tofu,  and pear. Avoid raw and cold foods during Winter as much as possible. These tend to cool the body. Use soups and stews, and cooked root vegetables, dark leafy greens, walnuts, black sesame seeds, and beans (black and kidney).

Check out Gunn Helene’s new book Yoga and Diet: The Mindful Connection. It is available both as a paperback and eBook at Amazon.

She also writes health and food related articles for Norwegian magazines, and has a holistic wellness coaching practice. Connect with her via the social media links below!

Connect with Gunn Helene on Instagram:

@gunnhelenearsky @bakingyogi

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Titles for Website (38)
Gunn Helene Arsky
Gunn Helene Arsky
Gunn Helene Arsky is a Norwegian, holding a Master's degree in nutritional physiology from the University of Oslo, as well as being a Yin and Yang yoga teacher with her own yoga studio in Halden, Norway. She also writes health and food related articles for Norwegian magazines, and has a holistic wellness coaching practice. Through these vocations, and her online and offline courses, she helps women to a healthier, happier life, with a plant-based diet and yoga. Food and Yin yoga are her passions, and she is so happy to share them with you!

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